The Whole Duty of Woman

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The Whole Duty of Woman. A new edition, with considerable improvements. (Philadelphia: Printed by J. Ormrod …, 1798). Gift of Michael Papantonio. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX), Hamilton SS 247

This miniature courtesy book was pulled recently for a researcher. First published in 1695 by Lady Mary Cressy, under the title The Whole Duty of a Woman; or, A Guide to the Female Sex, from the Age of Sixteen to Sixty, &c. For a new edition in 1753, the author was simply listed as “A Lady.” In fact, this author was William Kenrick (1725?-1779), English novelist, playwright, and founder of the book review digest The London Review. Kenrick was described by Paul Fussell in PMLA (June 1951) as “one of London’s most despised, drunken, and morally degenerate hack writers in the later eighteenth century.”

In this tiny volume, Kenrick assumes the persona of a fallen woman, now reformed, who wants to persuade other women to live a life of virtue. Chapters include Curiosity, Reflection, Vanity, Knowledge, Reputation, Applause, Censure, Insinuation, Affectation, Modesty, Chastity, Complacence, Acquaintance, Friendship, Elegance, Frugality, Employment, Virginity, Marriage, Education, Authority, Widowhood, and Religion.

While courtesy books are, in general, books of etiquette for young women, they often went further by offering a philosophy of life, a code of principles, and ethical behavior by which to live. Kenrick was certainly having a good laugh as this volume was reprinted in over 20 editions.

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This book, while published by Kenrick for a long period, was in fact first published in 1695. It continued to be published into the 19th century.